The functional tether of each of our lives is based on two circuits. The first circuit is the experiential reference. Experience, you see is what gives you an anchor into the frame you wish to be placed in. This framing is both conscious and subconscious. It is both expressed and silent. It is visible in our behaviors or invisibly expressed in our actions. The old adage, “ we see one, we do one,” seems quite appropriate to fit in this monolog. Consciously or subconsciously, experience, becomes the tutor for all future actions.
Imagine yourself in a jungle, trying to pick up a stick to ward off any potential predators. And as you reach down to pick up the supposed stick, it curls itself, not in a Harry Potter sort of way, but as a stealthy snake pretending to be a stick.
That experience will stay in your mind forever. You will, by my calculations be fearful of all sticks on the ground and if your fancy runs wild, you will consider every stick a snake and a poisonous one at that. Thus experience here has not been kind to you. It has led you onto a path that has culminated in a sheltered view of living, afraid of taking risks, afraid of taking the next step.
But what if you had picked up a stick that was a stick and continued on through the jungle, whacking away at any thing that moved and having encountered snakes or other venomous or non-venomous creatures, safely arrived on the other side. You would have found a newfound courage and excitement to add to your repertoire, at each step, upping the ante. People around you would find you filled with the magnetism of courage and determination. This adulation would further your spirit into the vast unknown. Now marshaled with the armor of limited indestructibility you have moved on to shake the world to your needs. This path too has hidden dangers lurking within them, but if followed without any trepidation can have difficult consequences too. But a maturing mind that remains grounded in humility but daunting in spirit works his or her way through. And does so, by having a tincture of respect for the unknown and a dollop of reasoning to circumvent against such unwanted surprises.
The other circuit of this framing is a healthy fear. Fear drives many an emotion. It is innate to all animals. They protect themselves against predators, with color, with spikes, with ink, with feathers, with horns and thorns and poisons and might. These self-protecting abilities are borne of an evolutionary discourse between nature and being. The evolutionary concepts baked into our DNA have been fashioned over eons of experiential references. The “fight or flight” mechanism of adrenaline release, the flush of the face, the quickened heart-beat, the sudden surge of energy and the heightened senses are all carved out from the days of being “hunter-gatherers” and being hunted.
The tether between the experience and fear thus is the hallmark of our lives. It is strong and it pushes and pulls to the strength of each and makes us either timid souls awaiting the actions of others or makes us determined to face the fears and cast a wide net of action on this world of ambiguity to arrive at our fortunes.
How do we not become victims of one or the other is a question that needs to be addressed. I am no psychologist, nor a psychiatrist, but I do have a life experience that has taught me certain rules of the game and I will share those with you.
- Experience is an enterprise of history that we need to learn from. The stick in the forest that was a snake, well, if we were able to reason through that experience and use it as a means to “look” and “see” what we are about to do, we will learn that only certain snakes in certain areas look like that and can maintain that stealth. We can be cautious but not relegate that experience to a “be-all, end-all” life story to shape our lives. And if an experience such as that has shaped us to the present, we can spend some time in our minds to reason through the rationale of our current behavior. You see nothing is set in stone. As you might realize that a long bone like the femur in humans that is rigid enough to carry us walking, running, jumping and realizing many thousands of pounds per square inch of weigh on it with each propel also has the unique ability to mold and modify over time. Yes, indeed! Every bone that is shaped by pressures and forces modifies itself. So think of yourself as a modifiable, moldable being that changes to the pressures of the past experience in a positive way. Experience is not just to be relied upon for present and future action, but also to be utilized with reason to contemplate the next action. It should serve as a conduit to a rational, reasoned activity.
- Fear on the other hand that is derived from the potential that may or may not exist can be terrifying and limiting. It is terrifying in its unique but specific effect on the mind. Fear creates an environment of extreme self-preservation and it is limiting because it prevents us from taking risks and newer experience of the rest of what the world has to offer. Some will surrender to the fear, while others will continue on their own paths of self-discovery. The choice is always individual.
I will share a short story from my childhood…
In a swimming pool, one late afternoon when the storms were close at hand and lightening strikes were too numerous to count, my friends and I in our early teens set out to experience jumping from the highest platforms. Unbeknownst to the other three, I did not know how to swim. Well we all jumped one after another as each cleared the space. I was the last to jump. Everyone was on the edge of the pool looking up at me.
I hesitated a moment too long and catcalls came tearing into my head. Just then, a loud crack of thunder and that huge expansive 5 mm lightening bolt hit nearby. I lost my step and tumbled over. I hit the water hard and into the deep end of the pool. End over end with frothy bubbles all around me. Finally the physics of buoyancy took me to the surface. As my head surfaced, the small ice pellets and hail hit my head. I caught a glimpse of my friends running for shelter. And the weight of my scrawny legs, it seemed, pulled me below the surface of water, I swallowed large parcels of chlorinated water, coughing and choking. The words did not form as the frenzy of fear took hold. I thrashed and thrashed and knew that that was the end. Too young to contemplate the newspaper headlines of the next day, I do remember thinking, “Is this it, of my life, - no meaning!” As the frothy bubbles grew more violent, I felt a hand grab my arm and I am here to tell this tale.
For years, I did not swim. But one day, on a quiet introspective hour, I rationalized my way out of it. I am now a swimmer, no Phelps, but I can make my way around the pool with any stroke you can imagine.
We all have fears. What will happen to me? What will my future be? What will my friends say? What will everybody think? These are unfounded fears of inaction. Bold actions undertaken out of good reasoning makes for a better and fulfilled life.
Take for example the entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or even Mark Zuckerbergs of the world; they gave up a life of education for a dream. They did not fear the future due to expectations, but welcomed the adversity to face it with determination.
So chalk experience to experience and learn from it. Relegate fear to risk and learn to mitigate it. Propel yourself forward. It is the bold action that thrives and survives and those hampered by they’re past or by the future, live with an expectation of help from others, as life dribbles by.
"A fulfilling life is different to each person. You have to acknowledge your dreams, and not just wait for life to happen, and opportunities to come knocking at your door." - Joan Lunden